Great specs for the price • Four-year (!!!) warranty • Decent performance
Camera isn’t awful • but it’s not a selling point • Awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor
Teracube’s debut phone is a nice option for those who want a sustainable smartphone, but don’t expect anything spectacular from it.
Your iPhone may be a great piece of tech, but it’s terrible for the environment. That’s why Teracube made a phone you don’t need to get rid of in two years.
Teracube’s first phone may not wow you with its raw specs, but a $350 price tag and a seriously generous warranty might raise some eyebrows.
We got our hands on Teracube’s phone and it’s at least worth a look if you want a budget-friendly phone with some longevity. It may not be a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but there are some very good reasons to consider this phone.
What makes it better for the environment?
To start, some context: Like anything else, the industry that creates smartphones, laptops, etc. has a carbon footprint. That footprint had tripled in size between 2007 and 2018. Smartphones are particularly troublesome because a new one tends to feel obsolete after just two or three years.
Once your phone’s battery starts to die, you probably feel more inclined to just replace it than repair it. It’s possible to recycle electronics, but many materials can’t be recovered and re-used. Either way, it’ll likely contribute to the millions of metric tons of e-waste we collectively create on this planet each year.
E-waste dump sites can spread disgusting fumes that make people nearby sick, as The New York Times reported last year. Making matters worse is that phones are largely made out of non-renewable resources like cobalt, gold, and beryllium. Suppliers for companies such as Apple and Google have been accused of securing these materials through child labor.
Teracube aims to be different by promising ethical sourcing of materials and offering a pretty generous four-year warranty designed to keep you using your same phone for as long as possible. Nathan Proctor, director of the U.S. PIRG‘s Campaign for the Right to Repair, told Mashable in an interview that simply using phones for longer could help reduce e-waste.
“The most important thing that we can do is use our phones for a lot longer.”
“The rate at which we’re replacing those phones with new phones is a really urgent environment concern, so the most important thing that we can do is use our phones for a lot longer,” Proctor said. “That has not been a real, principle objective of some of the major cell phone manufacturers.”
To get a more explicit idea of how a “sustainable” phone might differ from an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, you need look no further than the repair and teardown experts at iFixit. They rate new smartphones on a scale of 10 for their repairability index, regularly giving Samsung phones poor marks and iPhones middling scores.
On the other hand, the Fairphone 3 (a similar option to Teracube’s phone) scored a perfect 10 because it’s designed to let owners repair and keep their phones around for years. In an interview, iFixit founder Kyle Wiens gave some examples of how big phone manufacturers artificially block easy repairs.
“In general, the Samsungs are glued together. It takes almost an act of Congress to get the screen out of those things,” Wiens said. “[Apple is] tying parts with software, so if the home button breaks on an iPhone, you have to have Apple’s magic software to make the home button work.”
In summary: Teracube didn’t figure out some magical formula to make a phone that’s better for the environment than your iPhone. Instead, it’s more sustainable because it’s designed to last longer than a typical smartphone.
Is it any good as a phone?
Listen, nobody is buying the Teracube phone expecting a top-of-the-line powerhouse handset. This is essentially a mid-range, unlocked Android phone with very little in the way of fancy or unique features. The selling point is that you can theoretically use it for longer than your average smartphone, with the knowledge that it supposedly wasn’t made under quite as exploitative of labor conditions.
Most carriers are listed on Teracube’s website except for Sprint and Verizon. Its FAQ notes that the phone technically works with Verizon despite not being part of its “Bring Your Own Device” program, but there’s no mention of Sprint at all. The phone is unlocked from the get-go, which is nice.
Since we’re here, we might as well talk specs. The Teracube phone is only available in one $250 SKU, with a 6.2-inch screen, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. The gorilla glass screen looks nice and vibrant even in sunlight, and the front camera notch isn’t horribly distracting.
You also get (mentally insert drumroll) a headphone jack! It’s on the top of the phone, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than not having one at all. Another nifty addition, and something that not all cheap phones have, is a USB-C port on the bottom. The 3,400mAh battery keeps it competitive with more expensive Android phones, as that’s actually bigger than the 2,800mAh engine powering the Google Pixel 4.
There’s a fingerprint sensor on the top-middle area of the phone’s back. I do not love this. Teracube’s phone isn’t small by any means, and I suspect anyone with smaller hands than mine is going to find it slightly awkward to position their index finger over the sensor every time they want to unlock the phone. It’s not excruciatingly painful or anything, but I found it a little less uncomfortable than the thumb sensor on older iPhones.
As far as performance is concerned, I didn’t notice any huge red flags during regular, everyday activities like web browsing and using social media. It feels like every other mid-range Android phone I’ve ever used in that it’s a tad slow compared to my iPhone 8, but perfectly acceptable if you don’t need to be on the bleeding edge of technology.
Teracube packed dual 12 and 5MP rear cameras and an 8MP selfie camera into its debut phone. They’re fine. Again, I have a hard time believing anyone who buys this expects to use it for anything resembling professional photography. Photos are sharp, but the colors maybe aren’t as vibrant as they could be. It supports HDR photography, but I didn’t notice a huge difference between HDR and non-HDR photos.
This ain’t an iPhone 11 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but if you’re just taking photos for Instagram Stories, it should do the trick.
What Teracube has done here is create a perfectly adequate and utterly unremarkable (in a good way) Android phone that you can feel good about using. The specs are rock solid for a $350 phone and you really can’t overstate the value of a four-year warranty. No Sprint support makes it less accessible. Still, for everyone else who just wants a functional phone they won’t need to replace in a year or two, you might want to consider the Teracube.